Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

The story of the “Cornfield Bomber,” an aircraft that landed without a pilot, might not sound very impressive in today’s age of drones and increased automation. The narrative changes drastically when one key piece of information is added: this happened in 1970, after the pilot was forced to eject from a jet he had last control of.

The bizarre event, on February 2nd, 1970, to be precise, took place during a training sortie for the 71st Fighter Interceptor Squadron out of Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. Three pilots in F-106 Delta Darts took to the sky for a two-on-one combat training exercise. A fourth was a last-minute scratch from the flight schedule after an equipment issue on the runway, leaving instructor pilot Captain Tom Curtis flying solo against fellow instructor pilot, Major James Lowe, and 1st Lieutenant Gary Foust (at the sticks of the “Cornfield Bomber”). Regardless of the hierarchy, bragging rights were at stake.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
F-106As in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

“Of course, this was a big ego thing, who was the winner…” said Curtis, whose recollection of the day is available at f-106deltadart.com.

Curtis goes on to detail what led to Foust needing to eject from his aircraft:

“I figured I could handle Gary pretty easy, but I did not trust Jimmy. I figured he would probably break off and come after me. With this thought in mind, I came at them in full afterburner. I was doing 1.9 Mach when we passed.

I took them straight up at about 38,000 feet. We got into a vertical rolling scissors. I gave [Gary] a high-G rudder reversal. He tried to stay with me – that’s when he lost it. He got into a post-stall gyration… a very violent maneuver. His recovery attempt was unsuccessful and the aircraft stalled and went into a flat spin, which is usually unrecoverable.”

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
From “Flight Training Instruction, Basic Fighter Maneuvering” (Naval Air Training Command)

Lt. Foust started running through emergency recovery procedures by the book, but the jet did not respond and continued to spin and plummet to the Earth. Maj. Lowe instructed him to deploy his drag chute, but it only wrapped uselessly around the tail. Out of options, Foust was finally instructed to eject at 15,000 feet. No one could have predicted what happened next.

When Foust ejected, the Delta Dart first went nose down, but then recovered on its own and resumed the straight and level flight Foust had been trying to achieve for about 23,000 feet. Lowe watched Foust eject, and then witnessed the unmanned F-106 take things from there, improbably flying itself away. Unphased, Lowe still had time for humor, and quipped over the radio:

“Gary, you’d better get back in it!”

Of course, Foust had little choice but to watch, dumbfounded, as he floated safely to the ground in the mountains of Montana, to be later extracted by locals on snowmobiles.

“I had assumed it crashed,” he said years later in an interview at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force (where the jet now sits). However, over fifty miles away as the crow (or Delta Dart) flies, the jet skidded on its belly to a safe landing in a field near a town called Big Sandy.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
(U.S. Air Force photo)

The high-performance interceptor hadn’t gone unnoticed on its approach through rural Montana. According to a 1978 article in the Mohawk Flyer (a local paper near Griffiss AFB in NY, where this particular jet had since been re-assigned), a local sheriff got in touch with the Air Force at Malmstrom and got instructions on how to throttle down the still-turning aircraft. The jet was melting the snow beneath it and still lurching slowly across the field. The understandably apprehensive sheriff decided to instead let the jet punch itself out and run out of fuel, which took another hour and 45 minutes.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
(U.S. Air Force photo)

Fortunately, bystanders had kept a safe distance from the unpredictable monstrosity that managed to crawl another 400 yards. The radar in its nosecone was still sweeping and would have been hazardous to anyone approaching the aircraft from the front, as well. When the dust (or snow) had settled, Foust’s wayward steed was no worse for the wear besides a gash in the belly. It was partially disassembled and transported by train to California, where it was repaired and eventually returned to service.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
The only significant damage from the belly landing. Not bad for having landed itself (U.S. Air Force photo)

With the rise of the F-15, and as the Soviets began to focus more on inter-continental ballistic missiles over long-range bombers for nuclear deterrence, the F-106 was slowly phased out. Ironically, many were converted to the QF-106, an unmanned drone used for target practice. This bird, however, was not one of them. Tail number 58-0787 ended up as one of the jets at the 49th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, the Air Force’s last F-106 squadron, at Griffis AFB. As fate would have it, Foust would be stationed there, along with his wingman the day of the incident, James Lowe, who was now his squadron commander. Lowe, who apparently has a delightfully twisted sense of humor, saw to it that Foust was paired back up with his old aircraft.

How did the “Cornfield Bomber” land itself?

An unmanned jet flying itself to a safe landing, away from a populated area, and almost completely unharmed, is improbable, to be sure. It was more than just dumb luck, however. As theorized by Peter Grier in his Air Force Magazine article, the force of the rockets from Foust’s ejection seat, as well as the shift in the aircraft’s center of gravity from a now missing pilot, corrected the spin and set the aircraft back to what it was naturally shaped to do, take advantage of lift and fly.

As it turns out, the attempted recovery procedures carried out by Foust before he bailed out were significant in saving the aircraft. One of those measures was to “trim” the aircraft to take-off settings, which happen to be very similar to those for landing. Trim refers to automated settings that free the pilot from having to maintain constant pressure on the controls to keep flight surfaces (flaps, ailerons, etc.) in the correct position for a given phase of flight (ascent, descent, maintain altitude, etc.)

“When Gary ejected, the aircraft was trimmed wings-level for about 175 knots (200 mph), a very nice glide setting,” Curtis said in his account.

Another element of the jet’s salvation, as noted by Grier, may have been a concept in aeronautics known as “ground effect.” In short, ground effect is a change in aerodynamics as an aircraft gets closer to the ground. Because of the way air interacts with the aircraft’s wings as it nears landing, drag is decreased and lift is increased, causing an aircraft to “float,” which is a very plausible explanation for such little damage sustained in this case.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
A more thorough explanation is available here

Whether it was a pilot determined to save his plane, physics, some kind of divine intervention, or a combination of all three, the “Cornfield Bomber” remains one of the wildest stories in American aviation history that most people haven’t heard of. Foust remarked in his interview at the museum:

“I don’t know who named it that, or how it got that name. It should be the ‘Wheatfield Fighter.’ But it sounds a little catchier to be the ‘Cornfield Bomber…’”

“…I guess I’m part of a one-in-a-million occurrence. I don’t know that this has ever happened again, this whole scenario. But it is good to see the airplane again, and to know that it’s in the museum here and that this story will live on…”

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 ships sunk at Pearl Harbor fought in World War II

While “salvage operations” aren’t usually stories of perseverance and ingenuity, the actions of brave sailors and officers after the Pearl Harbor attacks formed a miracle that is legitimately surprising. While the battleships Utah, Arizona, and Oklahoma were permanently lost after the Pearl Harbor attacks, seven combat ships that were sunk in the raid went on to fight Japanese and German forces around the world, and at least three non-combat ships saw further service in the war.


In all, 21 ships were labeled damaged or sunk after the attack. Nine of them were still afloat and were either quickly repaired for frontline duty or sent to the U.S. West Coast for repairs and new equipment. But another 12 were sunk, and some of those were even declared lost. Before the war closed, seven of the sunken ships would see combat, and another three served in peacetime roles.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

The USS West Virginia burns on December 7 thanks to Japanese attacks. It would go on to punish the Japanese forces across the Pacific.

(U.S. Navy)

USS West Virginia was declared lost three years before entering Tokyo Bay

The USS West Virginia was one of the worst hit in the raid. The “Weevie,” as it was called, had been hit by up to seven torpedoes, but no one could be certain exactly how many torpedoes hit it, really, because the damage was so severe. At least two torpedoes flowed through holes in the hull and exploded inside against the lower decks.

Salvage crews were forced to create large patches that were held in place with underwater concrete. As seawater was pumped out, it was expected that the ship’s electric drive would be unusable or would need extensive repairs but, surprisingly, it turned out that seawater hadn’t reached the main propulsion plant. The alternators and motors were repaired, and the ship headed for Puget Sound Navy Yard.

The ship received much better anti-aircraft armament and defensive armor and headed back into the fight in the Pacific. At the Battle of the Surigao Strait, Weevie fired ninety-three rounds into the Japanese fleet. It later hit Japanese forces ashore on Leyte, served at Luzon, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, and was the first of the older battleships to sail into Tokyo Bay to witness Japan’s surrender in 1945.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

The USS Shaw explodes at Pearl Harbor on December 7. It later fought across the Pacific.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Shaw attacked Guadalcanal, Leyte, and the Philippines

The destroyer USS Shaw was only 6-years old when the Pearl Harbor attack began, but the modern warship was in overhaul on Dec. 7, 1941, and had all of its ammo stored below decks. So it was unable to protect itself as dive bombers struck it, shredding the deck near gun number 1, severing the bow, and rupturing the fuel oil tanks. All this damage led to a massive fire in the forward magazines which then blew up.

The Shaw was declared a total loss, but the Navy found that much of its machinery was still good. Damaged sections were cut off, a false bow was fitted, and the ship steamed to Mare Island in California for permanent repairs just two months after the attack.

The overhauled USS Shaw fired on Japanese forces at the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, Guadalcanal, Leyte, and the Southern Philippines. It served out the war before being decommissioned in October 1945.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

The USS Nevada fires its guns at the Normandy shore during D-Day in June 1944, about 30 months after the ship sunk at Pearl Harbor.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Nevada shelled Normandy

The USS Nevada was one of the few ships in the harbor that was ready to fight on December 7, and its official reports indicated that the crew first opened fire at 8:02, about 60 seconds after the attack started. It was able to down between two and five enemy planes, but still took one torpedo and six bomb hits that doomed the ship. An admiral ordered the ship to beach itself to protect the channel and the ship from further damage.

While Adm. Chester E. Nimitz was pessimistic as to the Nevada’s chances, salvage leaders were quite hopeful. Most of the holes were small enough to patch with wood instead of steel. It took extensive work to get the ship capable of sailing to the West Coast. When it arrived at Puget, it received new anti-aircraft guns and a full overhaul.

The Nevada took part in the Aleutian Islands Campaign just one year after Pearl Harbor before going on to fight at Normandy on D-Day. It headed back to the Pacific and fought at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

The battleship USS California sits in drydock in 1942 as crews prepare to begin major repair operations.

(U.S. Navy)

USS California slammed a Japanese Fuso-class battleship with shells

The California crew was able to get into fighting position as Japanese bombers closed in, but that just left officers in perfect position to watch the track of the torpedo that hit the ship in the opening minutes. As damage control got underway, a second torpedo hit the ship followed by a single bomb. All this was made worse when the crew had to abandon ship as the fires from the USS Arizona floated around the California.

But the crew came back and kept the ship afloat for three days before it finally sank into the mud. Salvage operators had to build cofferdams to begin repairs so that crews could access previously flooded areas. As the ship emerged from the water, caustic solutions were used to remove corrosion and seawater. It sailed for the West Coast in October 1942.

By the time the California left the Puget Sound Navy Yard in late 1943, it had nearly all new parts, from the engine to many weapons. It used these to fight at the Marianas, bombard Saipan and Guam, and then slam a Fuso-class battleship at Surigao Strait with over 90,000 pounds of munitions.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

The USS Downes on left and USS Cassin, capsized on right, sit on the partially flooded floor of Drydock No. 1 on Dec. 7, 1941, after suffering multiple bomb hits and internal explosions.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Cassin

The destroyers USS Cassin and USS Downes were in drydock on December 7. So they were essentially impossible to damage with torpedoes, but were highly susceptible to bombs. Guess what Japan hit them with? Bombs passed entirely through the Cassin and exploded on the drydock floor, and both ships were set on fire and struck by tons of fragments. Cassin even toppled off its blocks and struck the drydock floor.

The USS Cassin’s keel and hull were warped by the damage, and the hull was filled with holes. The shell plating was wrinkled. Crews disassembled the ship and sent most everything but the hull to Mare Island where they were installed in a new shell. Despite the entirely new hull, the Navy considered the resulting ship to still be the USS Cassin.

The Cassin was sent against Marcus Island, Guam, Saipan, Tinian, Luzon, Iwo Jima, Palau, and the Philippine Islands. Yeah, it had a pretty busy war for a ship “lost” on December 7.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

The USS Downes sails away from Mare Island to serve against Japan in World War II on Dec. 8, 1943, almost exactly a year after the Pearl Harbor attack.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Downes

The Downes arguably suffered worst than the Cassin in drydock as the fires caused sympathetic detonations in the Downes‘ torpedoes and other weapons. It was also twisted by damage, and it had massive holes from the explosions. Downes had aluminum plating on its deckhouse that was completely destroyed.

Like the Cassin, the Downes had its hull scrapped and most of its innards installed in another hull in the shipyard on Mare Island.

This new and improved USS Downes fought at Saipan, Marcus Island, and Luzon. Like the Cassin, it had been declared lost after the Pearl Harbor damage.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

The USS Oglala is visible in the foreground, mostly submerged on its side as other ships burned in the background on December 7 at Pearl Harbor.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Oglala

The minelayer Oglala technically didn’t suffer a hit on December 7, but a torpedo passed under it and hit the USS Helena. The blast from that crippled the old Oglala which had been built as a civilian vessel in 1906. The crewmembers took their guns to the Navy Yard Dock and set them up to provide more defenses. They also set up a first aid station that saved the lives of West Virginia crewmembers.

The ship suffered horribly, eventually capsizing and sinking until just a few feet of the ship’s starboard side remained above water. It was declared lost, and the Navy even considered blowing it up with dynamite to clear the dock it had sunk next to. But the decision was made that it could destroy the dock, so the Navy had to refloat it. At that point, it made sense to drydock and repair it.

After repair and refit at Mare Island Navy Yard, the Oglala was re-launched as a repair ship and served across the west Pacific. It actually joined the Maritime Reserve Fleet after the war and wasn’t scrapped until 1965, almost 60 years after its construction as a civilian passenger liner.

(Author’s note: Most of the information for this article came from The Navy Department Library’s online copy of Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal by Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin. It can be found online here.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

Night Witches: The female pilots who struck fear into the Nazis

With what is arguably one of the most badass names in military history, the story of the female aviators nicknamed Nachthexen, or “Night Witches” by German soldiers, tends to fly under a lot of people’s radar (bad pun intended). Flying no-frills wooden planes with ill-fitting uniforms and no parachutes, these Soviet pilots not only faced off against Nazis, but also judgment, doubt, and mistreatment by many of their male counterparts. 

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
The women of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, with their aircraft in the background. (U.S. Air Force)

From the start of WWII, Russian women were looking for ways to contribute in both support roles at home and in hands-on roles near the front lines. These women had a seasoned advocate in their corner, in the form of Soviet pilot Colonel Marina Raskova. 

Raskova, known to many as the “Russian Amelia Earhart,” had already made a name for herself as the first female navigator in the Soviet Air Force, with an impressive number of long distance flights already recorded. Once Raskova began receiving letters from women asking how they could help, she used her position within the military to open up new opportunities for them. Her success was helped by the fact that Joseph Stalin personally knew and respected Raskova and her efforts, and in October of 1941, he ordered her to create three female-only air squads. While two of them inevitably became mixed-gendered, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment remained exclusively women for the entirety of its existence.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
A stamp portrait of Marina Raskova in uniform with the insignia of a major of the Soviet Air Force. (WikiMedia Commons)

Around 400 women, ranging in age from 17 to 25, were selected and moved to Engels, where they began training at the Engels School of Aviation. In addition to having to learn years worth of training and information in just a few short months, they also had to deal with misogyny from many of the male soldiers within the Soviet ranks.

Since the women of the 588th were seen by many to be less than, or as “little girls,” they weren’t taken seriously or provided proper equipment. The female pilots were given ill-fitting male uniforms and oversized boots, which they would have to stuff with their own torn up bedding to ensure a better fit. With sexual harassment and ridicule a daily occurrence, these women had to learn quickly how to be stronger both in and outside of battle. 

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Night Withes in 1943 (WikiMedia Commons)

They also weren’t able to equip their planes with things like parachutes due to a lack of funds and strict weight limits for the outdated aircraft they were provided. These planes were crop dusters from the 1920s and typically only used for training purposes. Made predominantly of canvas and plywood, the two-person Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes were considered by most to be a death wish if used in combat. 

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
(WikiMedia Commons)

Since the plane itself already posed so many of its own safety issues, flying at night was really their only way to ensure any sort of stealth and safety. Most runs would happen with three planes, the first two meant to draw attention and enemy fire, with the third being the one to drop the bomb. What made this so dangerous is the fact that the third plane, to avoid detection, would have to cut their engine and glide over their target as quietly as possible.

Getting the engine back up and running after the drop was always a “fingers crossed” kind of scenario, given the age and ability of the aircraft. One of the only things these planes offered in their favor was the fact that, due to their slower top speed, they were able to maneuver faster than the German planes, making it harder to get a target on them. In terms of defense munitions on board, there was little to none. Many pilots would have only a loaded pistol, typically leaving the last bullet for themselves, as suicide was preferrable to being captured.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Irina Sebrova flew 1,008 sorties in the war, more than any other member of the regiment. (WikiMedia Commons)

The main goal of the 588th was to disorient and sleep deprive the enemy, and soon after beginning their runs, it became clear that they were successful. Not only were the Nazi’s thrown off by the near-nightly attacks, but they were also particularly incensed when they learned that an all-woman regiment was responsible. The name Night Witches was given by the Nazis — due to the noise the planes would make when they would glide, engines cut, overhead. They described it as the sound of “brooms sweeping.”

Despite their clear aptitude and success, the Night Witches, a name they wore with pride, continued to receive criticism and contempt from many of the males in the Soviet military throughout their time in the war. They were arguably never given the complete appreciation and recognition they deserved. That didn’t seem to bother them too much, however, and they went on to fly around 30,000 sorties and have 23 of their pilots awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Group photograph of several members of the Night Witches, all of whom became heroes of the Soviet Union. Left to right: Tanya Makarova, Vera Belik, Polina Gelman, Yekaterina Ryabova, Yevdokiya Nikulina, and Nadezhda Popova. (WikiMedia Commons)

While the roles of women in the military have continued to grow and evolve across the globe, the Night Witches were instrumental in showing that women are just as capable, even with minimal support, respect, equipment, and with all the odds stacked against them. It’s stories like these, the lesser-known tales, that add so much to history. It’s these stories that set the stage for where we are today.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Rag-tag Circus begged, borrowed, and stole vehicles in its drive across Germany

The 83rd Infantry Division, nicknamed Thunderbolt, first entered combat in Normandy in late June 1944. Generally fighting as part of Patton’s Third Army, they were involved in major combat across Northern France and Europe.


Their first action was as a part of Operation Cobra to breakout of the Normandy hedgerows. They then fought against stiff resistance until they finally entered Germany.

This is where the 83rd would come to notoriety as the “Rag-tag Circus.”

Once American forces crossed the Rhine in March 1945, it became an all-out sprint for Berlin with the fast-moving Armored Divisions of the 12th Army Group leading the way.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

But the 83rd was a light division with very little in the way of organic transportation assets.

According to the After Action Report of the 329th Infantry Regiment, the Rag-tag Circus was born of necessity when the regiment’s ten non-organic trucks were detached for other duties. As the battalion commanders protested, word came down from the division commander, “utilize to the fullest extent the captured German transportation they had in their possession.”

The 83rd took the idea and ran with it.

Any German vehicle they could get their hands on got a coat of OD green paint and some white stars and was pressed into service.

They commandeered all manner of vehicles: trucks, staff cars, motorcycles, buses, German tanks, and even a Messerschmitt BF 109 was confiscated and piloted by a member of the division.

One of the more famous vehicles pressed into service was a German fire truck. Loaded with infantrymen, it proudly displayed a banner with the division’s intentions, Next Stop: Berlin.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Photo from Public Domain.

These commandeered vehicles complemented the already-taxed vehicles the 83rd had. Pushing the limits of reason, tanks carried more than 30 troops on top while jeeps, with and without trailers, were carrying more than a dozen.

Men were packed on so tight that the assistant division commander quipped, “it looked like the men were sprayed on the tanks.”

But this motley crew of vehicles and men that made up the Rag-tag Circus wasn’t the only amazing thing about the 83rd Infantry Division’s drive across Germany.

The Rag-tag Circus had the Germans on the run and was moving at a blistering pace. Pockets of German resistance were quickly overcome and the division moved on.

Oftentimes, division headquarters would displace forward as much as five times per day. The grunts on the ground almost never stopped.

They moved so fast that the lead elements of regiments were often moving out of the other side of a town before the Germans had even had a chance to retreat.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Photo from Public Domain.

This led to some rather comical instances.

As the Rag-tag Circus sped east through yet another town, an erratic driver entered their column. The vehicle was just another German staff car like so many others in the convoy and since speed was the order of the day, it might not have otherwise drawn much attention. But the erratic driving and continual horn-honking alerted some of the GIs. PFC David Webster took a closer look as the car sped by his vehicle and noticed there was something different about this German car – it still had Germans in it. In fact, sitting in the rear was a Wehrmacht General who was oblivious to the fact that the column he was speeding through was actually American — not German. The GIs stepped on the gas and blocked the path of the Germans, leading to the capture of a German general by almost sheer luck.

In another instance, the Rag-tag Circus was simply travelling so fast that they overtook a column of German vehicles attempting to retreat to the east. This time, the 83rd bagged themselves a German Colonel to go with their prized General.

But those weren’t the only prisoners the 83rd took. In their fourteen day, 280-mile dash across Germany from the Rhine to the Elbe, they captured some 12,000 German POWs and 72 German towns. They also liberated over 75,000 Allied POWs from German camps and liberated a number of concentration camps as well.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

The Rag-tag Circus was also the first unit to cross the Elbe River on April 13, 1945, securing a bridgehead after engineers built a treadway bridge across the river.

Despite Berlin being less than 50 miles away and German resistance virtual nonexistent, the 83rd was told to hold their position.

Although they were known as the Rag-tag Circus during their courageous run up to the Elbe, the division sought a more appropriate name to commemorate the achievement. The men of the division settled on “Thunderbolt,” which became the official division nickname.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

The Elbe would end up being the closest the Americans would get to Berlin before the war ended and on April 25, 1945, elements of the 65th Infantry Division linked up with Russians advancing from the east.

Despite its heroic and record-breaking efforts, the 83rd was denied a Presidential Unit Citation. After occupation duty in German, the 83rd returned to the United States in March 1946 and was inactivated the following month.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Marine Vietnam Veteran turned firefighter gave his life to save others on 9/11

The word hero is defined as someone who is admired for their courage and noble qualities. Patrick “Paddy” Brown was all of that and more. He was murdered on September 11, 2001.

Paddy grew up in Queens, New York, raised by a father who was an FBI agent and former minor league baseball player, and a mother that taught music. As a kid, he’d loved the firehouse and felt at home there. Paddy joined the Boy Scout Explorer Post which specialized in fire service when he was a teenager. As he got older, Paddy joined the New York Fire Patrol and was assigned to Fire Patrol 1. He was well on his way to becoming a full-fledged firefighter.

But war came calling.


At 17 years old, Paddy enlisted in the Marine Corps with his father’s permission. Feeling the need to be a part of something bigger than himself led him to putting his firefighting dreams on hold. After arguing his way out of a clerk position, he was moved to the 3rd Engineers Battalion and immediately deployed to Vietnam.

It was there that he would crawl through the tunnels constructed by the Vietcong, being one of the first to search and clear them. Paddy completed and survived two full tours of Vietnam, making it home at the rank of Sergeant. For his time in service he was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon and Vietnam Service Medal.

Paddy came home to a country divided over the war and found himself lost. Paddy turned to alcohol to push down his demons, unable to find hope or good in his surroundings. He confided in fellow firefighter Tim Brown that he recognized he was traveling down a dangerous path and needed to course-correct. Paddy replaced alcohol with boxing and eventually became an AA sponsor. Soon, Paddy was back at the New York Fire Patrol with the goal of becoming an FDNY firefighter.

On January 28, 1977, Paddy graduated and was assigned to Ladder 26 in Harlem, officially a part of the FDNY. It wasn’t long before he began making a name for himself with frequent rescues. By 1982, he was being recruited to Rescue 1 and 2 – units filled with the best of the best in the FDNY. By the time he hit 10 years as a firefighter, his personal awards and recognitions for heroism were astounding. Paddy achieved the rank of Lieutenant on August 8, 1987.

All of this was done quietly. Tim shared that when Paddy would wear his dress uniform, he would often leave off some of his medals to avoid making people feel inadequate, because he had so many. Despite not wanting attention, a daring rope rescue in 1991 would make him known everywhere. By 1993, he was promoted to Captain and on October 21, 2000 he was assigned as Captain of Ladder 3.

September 11, 2001 changed everything.

Paddy was on duty when he witnessed the first plane hit the World Trade Center. He quickly called the dispatcher to tell them what he saw and Ladder 3 was immediately tasked with responding. When he made it to the North Tower, he ran into Tim in the lobby and gave him a hug. Tim shared that there was something in his eyes and voice as he headed up the stairwell.

Paddy knew he’d never make it out.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

As the South Tower collapsed, the North Tower swayed. Ladder 6 was told to evacuate, as was Ladder 3, which Paddy was leading. His last known words are as follows: “This is the officer of Ladder Co. 3. I refuse the order! I am on the 44th floor and we have too many burned people with me. I am not leaving them!”

Not long after that radio call, the North Tower collapsed. Tim had just narrowly survived the collapse of the South Tower himself when he watched the North Tower fall.

In that moment, Tim shared, he knew all of his friends were dead.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

Paddy and Michael.

Paddy’s brother Michael, who was a doctor and former FDNY firefighter, spent weeks searching for him in the rubble and ash. On November 10, 2001, a day that should have been spent celebrating both the Marine Corps’ and Paddy’s birthdays, a memorial service was held for Paddy, instead. The lines stretched around the block, with people coming to mourn the loss of a hero. Paddy’s family was overwhelmed with incredible stories about their hero that they had never known before.

They wouldn’t find Paddy’s body until December 14, 2001.

In 2010, Michael wrote the book What Brothers Do, about both his search for Paddy and his journey to discovering who Paddy really was. The book is being relaunched and has a new urgency to its message of what makes a true hero. Michael was diagnosed with cancer, caused by searching in the ruins of the towers. His hope is that the story of Paddy and all of those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, will never be in vain.

Never forget.

For every purchase of What Brothers Do, a portion will be donated to the Tunnel To Towers Foundation. Click here to grab your copy today.


MIGHTY HISTORY

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

The littoral combat ship was intended to carry out a wide variety of missions for the United States Navy in the 21st century. From mine-countermeasures to coastal anti-submarine warfare to combating small and fast enemy surface craft, these vessels are intended to fight and win. But how well would they fare against perhaps the epitome of the small fast surface craft in World War II?

The PT boat was built in very large numbers by the United States during World War II. While its most famous exploits were in the Philippines in late 1941 and early 1942, particularly the evacuation of General Douglas MacArthur, these boats saw action in all theaters of the war. There were two primary versions of the PT boat: The Higgins and the Elco.


These boats had slight variations in a number of sub-classes, but their main armament was four 21-inch torpedoes. In addition to the powerful torpedoes, the PT boats also packed two twin .50-caliber mounts. Other guns, ranging from additional .50-caliber machine guns to a variety of automatic cannons ranging from 20mm Oerlikons to the 37mm guns used on the P-39 Airacobra, to 40mm Bofors also found their way onto PT boats – and the acquisitions may not have been entirely… official.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

USS Freedom (LCS 1) is one of the lead ships of the two classes of littoral combat ship in service at present.

(Photo by U.S. Navy)

Now, the littoral combat ships also come in two varieties: The Freedom-class monohull design and the Independence-class trimaran design. Their standard armament consists of a 57mm main gun, a number of .50-caliber machine guns, a launcher for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, and two MH-60 helicopters. Modules can add other weapons, including 30mm Bushmaster II chain guns, surface-launched AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, and even the Harpoon or Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile as heavier anti-ship missiles.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

This was one of 45 PT boats at the Battle of Surigao Strait in October 1944.

(Photo by U.S. Navy)

Looking at just the paper, you’d think that the littoral combat ship has an easy time blowing away a PT boat. In a one on one fight, you’re correct. But the whole point of the PT boat wasn’t to just have one PT boat – it was to have a couple dozen attacking at once. The classic example of this was the Battle of Surigao Strait, part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, in October 1944. According to Volume XII of Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, “Leyte,” the Japanese force heading up Surigao Strait was facing 45 PT boats.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

A Mk 13 torpedo is launched from a PT boat. Now imagine that over a hundred have been launched at your force.

(Photo by U.S. Navy)

Never mind the fact that those PT boats were backed by six older battleships, four heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and 28 destroyers, the sheer number of PT boats had an effect against a force of two Japanese battleships, one heavy cruiser, and two light cruisers. Incidentally, only one Japanese destroyer survived that battle.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

USS Independence’s helicopters and onboard weapons would help it put up a good fight, but sheer numbers could overwhelm this vessel.

(Photo by U.S. Navy)

The same situation would apply in a PT boat versus littoral combat ship fight. The littoral combat ship’s MH-60 helicopters would use AGM-114 Hellfires to pick off some of the PT boats, but eventually the numbers would tell. What could make things worse for the littoral combat ship is if those PT boats were modified to fire modern 21-inch torpedoes. Such a hack is not out of the question: North Korea was able to graft a modern anti-ship torpedo onto a very low-end minisub and sink a South Korean corvette.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Ketchup became the classic American condiment

No American cookout would be complete without ketchup. Millions of Americans douse their french fries, hamburgers, hot dogs, and other cookout favorites with the condiment every day. The tomato-based sauce is even a staple for military personnel and astronauts!

Catsup, now more commonly known as “ketchup,” was a British term designated for any “spiced” sauce. The British had access to a myriad of spices from their exploits across the world. Their ketchup was made of oysters, cloves, cayenne, cherries, walnuts, vinegars, mace, and more.


Americans were the first to create ketchup with tomatoes, a crop native to North America, and an 1896 issue of The New York Tribune even declared tomato ketchup to be America’s national condiment found “on every table in the land.” The most famous tomato ketchup is the Heinz 57 variety. Apparently, founder Henry Heinz purposely created his own spelling of “ketchup” to differentiate from his “catsup”-peddling competitors.

Early tomato ketchup was made from fermented skins and cores. But these fermenting tomato leftovers could explode and burst their containers! The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, finally made this dangerous condiment safe to consume – and keep in the cupboard.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

The U.S. military has spent billions of dollars on ketchup since the late 19th century, from manufacturing the condiment to supplying all soldiers with packets of the sauce to spruce up their rations of mass-produced food.

Astronauts even carry ketchup into outer space! NASA provides nonperishable, shelf-stable food, but crews like to amp up the products with their favorite condiments.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
The STS-79 and Mir 22 crews gather on the Atlantis’s middeck for a meal of barbecue served by the STS-79 crew. Mission commander William Readdy offers the Mir 22 crew a bottle of ketchup to use on their meal.

Wherever you are this Fourth of July, we hope you are enjoying this historic condiment on your favorite foods!

This article originally appeared on National Archives. Follow @USNatArchives on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 lesser-known facts about the most decorated soldier in American history

No other soldier in American history has ever come close to earning the level of respect dutifully given to Lieutenant Audie Murphy. To date, no other soldier has managed to earn every single award for valor — including the Medal of Honor, two Silver Stars, and three Bronze Stars.

His legendary story has humble beginnings — he was a 5’5″, 17-year-old kid from Texas who tried to enlist with every branch and wasn’t admitted until he falsified his age to get into the Army. His heroic exploits are countless: Jumping on a burning tank and mowing down Nazis, single-handedly taking out German armor, and out-shooting snipers at every turn. If you’ve seen it in an action film and thought to yourself, “no way,” Audie Murphy probably did it.

But this isn’t a retelling of his high-profile heroics. If you’ve served in the U.S. military and don’t know the story of this man, then you should probably be doing push-ups and ordering a book about him right now. For the rest of you, enjoy these lesser-known facts about the legendary Audie Murphy


Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

Then, of course, came what he would be known for — fighting in Germany.

(Signal Corps Archives)

His rise in the ranks

After Pearl Harbor, Murphy was desperate to enlist. He finally got into the Army as a private on June 30, 1942 — just ten days after his 17th birthday. By February 20, 1943, he was shipped to Casablanca as part of the North Africa Campaign.

He was promoted to PFC while training for Sicily in May and, upon landing at Licata in July, he made corporal. After taking Campania in December, he was promoted to sergeant. He was again promoted to staff sergeant just a month later. He earned the Bronze Star with a “V” device and an oak leaf cluster before finishing up in Italy and moving onto the rest of Europe.

In less than a year, he went from private to staff sergeant.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

Murphy wanted to make a second film, titled ‘The Way Back,’ that chronicled his life after service, but it never came to fruition.

(Universal Pictures)

His acting career

After the war, he was offered the opportunity to attend West Point, but instead decided to pursue a career in acting. He practiced Shakespeare in his free time until he landed his first major role in The Kid From Texas, in which he played Billy the Kid.

Meanwhile, Murphy was working alongside one of his Army buddies to write a semi-autobiographical novel, To Hell and Back, which was adapted to film — Murphy played the lead role. In both the book and resulting film, he downplayed some elements of his service during the war as to avoid accusations of exaggeration. That’s how badass his actual actions were.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

Even in his darkest hours, he was still a fantastic human being.

(Whispering Smith)

He never wanted to sell out 

To put it bluntly, Audie Murphy had hit rock bottom in the 60s. He suffered from an addiction to the prescription drug Placidyl – a habit that he kicked by locking himself in a motel room until he was clean – became reclusive, attempted suicide several times, and lost much of his money to gambling and poor investments.

Throughout all of his struggles, however, he got offers to star in commercials for cigarettes and alcohol. Taking a single deal would have put him back on his feet, but he knew that if he took the money, he’d be setting a bad example for the countless children who looked up to him — so he declined them all.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

The gravestone was made before it came to light that he and his sister had falsified his year of birth so he could serve in WWII. He was actually born in 1925.

His grave is one of the most visited graves at Arlington

On May 28, 1971,Audie Murphy boarded a private jet in Atlanta, Georgia, and made hisway toward Martinsville, Virginia. There was heavy fog but the pilot chose to fly through it. The Aero Commander 680 carrying Murphycrashed into the side of Brush Mountain, 20 miles west of Roanoke. There were no survivors.

He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery,Section 46, headstone number 46-366-11. Outside of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldierand President John F. Kennedy, Murphy’s headstone is the most-visited grave. The volumeof tourists visiting to pay respects was so great that they had to buildan entirely new flagstone walkway to accommodatethe foot traffic.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

I’ve had the honor of serving under a few S.A.M.C. members. To this day, many years later, I know that they’d gladly give me the shirt off their back at the drop of a dime.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kamaile Chan)

A club of the finest NCOs in the Army is named in his honor

The spirit of Audie Murphy lives on through the outstanding non-commissioned officers of the United States Army. Formed in 1986, the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club recognizes the most professional, most intelligent, and most decorated leaders in the Army today.

The requirements for entry into this club are stringent, but above all, an NCO must be known for putting the well-being of his or her soldiers above their own. Earning the medallion is one of the surest ways to let the troops serving under you know that they’ll be well taken care of.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This ‘wooden shoe’ was really a deadly anti-personnel mine

Landmines have long been a fiendish weapon of war. Nazi Germany, though, developed one landmine that was particularly heinous. It was called a “shoe mine” by the Allies, but despite the innocent sounding name, it was one of the Nazis’ nastier pieces of work.

Its actual name was the Schützenmine 42, and it more of a wooden box than a shoe. Inside the box was an ignition device, a detonator, and some TNT. This wasn’t a particularly powerful mine — there were only about eight ounces of TNT — but it didn’t need a big boom to be feared.


Though the blast wasn’t huge, it would still do some real damage to the unlucky GI who stepped on it. He wouldn’t be killed — but he’d be seriously wounded, and other GIs or a medic would have to get to him before he bled out. The Nazis made millions of this type of extremely simple mine. So, where there was one, there were probably more.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

A look at the components of a “schu mine” – there was very little metal, making it hard to detect and easy to mass produce.

(US Army)

That wasn’t even the most diabolical part. The mine was housed in a wooden box. This made it both extremely simple to make and extremely hard to detect. Aside from the detonator, there just wasn’t a lot of metal, and most land-based minesweeping methods involved using metal detectors. This meant that the mine potentially could seriously wound (or kill) the specialists whose job it was to neutralize mines.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

The best way to detect the “schu mine” was through the use of dogs, who could sniff out the explosives.

(Imperial War Museum)

Ultimately, the Allies turned to dogs to sniff out the explosives in these mines. Although Nazi Germany lost the Second World War, their design was copied and employed by a large number of countries after the war. While the “schu mine” wasn’t the worst thing the Nazis did in World War II, it still ranks very high up among their foul deeds, and is one that still kills and maims to this day.

Learn more about this diabolical wooden box in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHpmE5D8NbI

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

Today’s Purple Heart medals were first made for the invasion of Japan

In May 1945, the Axis powers were all but beaten, but the war was far from over for the United States. Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 8 but a lot of work was left to be done – namely, the invasion of mainland Japan. It was assumed that many Purple Heart medals would be needed, but history took a different course.


The ongoing Battle of Okinawa with its high casualty rates and fierce defenders made it clear to American leadership that the upcoming invasion of Japan’s main island would be a costly one for both sides.

 

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Two Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment during fighting at Wana Ridge during the Battle of Okinawa, May 1945.Davis Hargraves provides covering fire with his M1 Thompson as Gabriel Chavarria, with a Browning Automatic Rifle, prepares to break cover to move to a different position.

 

To make matters worse President Roosevelt died and his vice-president and successor, Harry Truman, was faced with a choice: an amphibious invasion that would kill an estimated 1 million Allied troops and upwards of 10 million Japanese or drop the new destructive superweapon – the atomic bomb – and force a Japanese surrender.

As Truman worked on his next move, the military’s top brass had no idea what his choice might be. In preparation for the invasion option, the U.S. military ordered hundreds of thousands of Purple Heart medals made, and stored them in a warehouse in Arlington, ready to be handed to those wounded in Operation Downfall.

The attack, of course, never came. Truman went for the nuclear option.

 

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Literally.

So what to do with all those medals? Give them to the troops, of course.

World War II was over but there was still plenty of American combat to come in the 20th century. Though the U.S. has ordered 34,000 more of them after the Vietnam War, the medals from 1945 are still updated and issued as needed.

“Time and combat will continue to erode the WWII stock, but it’s anyone’s guess how long it will be before the last Purple Heart for the invasion of Japan is pinned on a young soldier’s chest,” historian D.M. Giangreco, said in a 2010 e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

The refurbished medals were distributed to military posts, units, and hospitals between 1985 and 1999. Even if new ones were made, the number given wounded service members through 2010 is still less than the number manufactured in 1945.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
A WWII-era Purple Heart (left) next to one received in Afghanistan (right).

 

The refurbished and new Purple Hearts are almost identical. 

A recipient may never know for which war their medal was made.

“You are talking about minute types of differences where only a specialist, somebody who really looks at this stuff, and looks at it often, can tell,” Giangreco said.

Either way, if you earn a Purple Heart, you can wear it with pride.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How an illegal immigrant was drafted and earned the Medal of Honor

These days, it’s a common political debate. “Dreamers,” illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as infant children and grew up with full lives and roots in the U.S., are sometimes completely unaware they were undocumented until later in life. Back in the days of the Second World War, we didn’t call them “Dreamers,” but the phenomenon was the same: People like Silvestre Herrera didn’t know they were in the United States illegally until they received a draft notice from the Army.

But finding out he wasn’t technically a citizen wasn’t going to stop Herrera from serving the country that gave him so much.


Herrera was born in Chihuahua, Mexico to loving parents in 1917, but they succumbed to the worldwide Spanish Influenza epidemic that killed millions around the globe the very next year. When he was around one year old, his uncle brought him to the United States and raised him as a farmhand in Texas. Silvestre Herrera grew up believing his uncle was his father and that he was born in El Paso, Texas.

Even when he married an American, had American children, and moved to Arizona, Herrera believed he was living a typical Mexican-American life in the Southwest. It wasn’t until he got his draft notice for the Texas National Guard in 1944 did he find out the truth about his entire life.

“Son, you don’t have to go,” his uncle told him soberly. “They can’t draft you.” The reason for this is because the U.S. Army can’t draft a Mexican citizen. But Herrera wasn’t about to avoid serving in the military and was enthusiastic about giving back to the United States.

“I didn’t want anybody to die in my place,” he later said. “My adopted country had been so nice to me.”

Latinos fighting in American wars is nothing new, even by World War II standards. People of Hispanic descent have fought in every American conflict from the Revolution to the War in Afghanistan. Mexicans raised in the U.S. was also a common occurrence by 1944. People of Mexican descent in the U.S. were twice as likely to have been born and raised in the States than not. Those who served were fiercely dedicated to their adoptive homes and Silvestre Herrera was going to be one of those.

“I am a Mexican-American and we have a tradition,” He once said. “We’re supposed to be men, not sissies.”

The 27-year-old Herrera eventually ended up in the 142nd Infantry Regiment and found himself in the Alsace region of France in March, 1945. Though the war in Europe would be over in a few short months, the fighting on the Western front was as fierce as ever. The 142nd was a critical part of Operation Undertone, a 75-kilometer front designed to push the Nazi back across the Rhine and secure bridgeheads to cross the river.

Herrera’s platoon was just five miles from their objective at the occupied city of Haguenau when they took coordinated machine gun fire – one from a nearby wood and another across a minefield. As the rest of the men in the platoon took cover, Herrera charged one machine gun nest, firing his M1 Garand rifle from the hip and chucking two grenades into the nest. Eight enemy soldiers surrendered to Herrera in that action.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

Reenactors recreating the 142nd 36th Infantry Division’s push into Germany in 1945 during the 2018 Camp Mabry Open House in Austin, Texas.

His platoon still found itself pinned down by another machine gun nest, this time protected by a minefield. Knowing full well the grass in front of him was a minefield, Herrera grabbed a two by four, pushing it along in front of him as he crawled across the minefield. Frustrated with his slow progress toward the nest, he tossed it away, stood up, and dashed for the gun emplacement. As he approached, he stepped on two mines, one on each foot. The resulting explosions blew off both of his feet.

He continued forward toward the enemy, running on his knees. The bleeding Mexican-American GI fell to his stomach and laid down rifle fire, keeping the attention of the Nazi machine gun as his platoon flanked the position and knocked it out. Bleeding profusely, Herrera still somehow managed to stay conscious. The Army was able to save Herrera’s knees and were eventually able to fit him with prosthetic feet.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

Herrera receives the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman, 1945.

When he was to be awarded the Medal of Honor for the heroism that cost him his feet, President Truman was unsure if the man, still bed-ridden from his wounds, would be able to be present for the award. Sure enough, when the time came, Herrera was in full uniform as he rolled his wheelchair to the President of the United States.

“He told me he would rather be awarded the Medal of Honor than be president of the United States,” Herrera told the Arizona Republic in 2005. “That made me even more proud.”

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

Herrera wearing the Medal of Honor and Mexico’s Order of Military Merit.

Just one year after receiving the U.S. military’s highest award for valor in combat, the Mexican government decided to award him Mexico’s Order of Military Merit, its highest award for valor in combat. Herrera is the only soldier ever to wear both. Most importantly, as Arizona’s first World War II Medal of Honor recipient, citizens of Arizona started a campaign to get Silvestre Herrera U.S. citizenship and even raised ,000 to help him purchase his first home.

After the war, Herrera went back to work, prosthetic limbs and all, for much of the rest of his life. According to his surviving relatives, his war injuries never kept him from doing anything physical or raising his family. He died in 2007, sixteen years after his beloved wife, Ramona.

Articles

This 100-year-old explosion completely dwarfs the ‘mother of all bombs’ blast

On April 13, the US military dropped the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal on an ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan.


Nicknamed the “Mother of All Bombs” (but officially called the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb), the 30-foot-long munition allegedly crushed a network of caves, tunnels, and bunkers dug into a remote mountainside.

The strike was akin to setting off about 11 tons of TNT — a school bus’ weight worth of explosives.

However, the attack pales in comparison to an accidental explosion that rocked a coastal town nearly three decades before the first atomic bomb.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
The GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, or MOAB, moments before it detonates during a test on March 11, 2013. On April 13, 2017, it was used in combat for the first time. (USAF photo)

On the morning of December 6, 1917, a ship detonated in the harbor of Halifax, Nova Scotia, unleashing a blast equivalent to about 3,000 tons of TNT.

The resulting shockwave instantly killed more than 1,000 people, threw a cargo ship like a bath toy, and created a 50-foot-tall tidal wave.

This is the incredible and horrifying story of the Halifax Explosion: the largest human-made, non-nuclear blast in history.

By December 1917, World War I had been raging for three years. Halifax, located on Canada’s east coast, served as an important port for shipping troops and supplies to Europe.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Nova Scotia Archives Records Management | Wikimedia

On December 6, a Norwegian cargo ship, the SS Imo, was departing Halifax on its way to New York. The ship was en route from the Netherlands to ferry supplies back to a war-ravaged Belgium.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Lectures pour tous | Wikimedia

Source: NASA Safety Center

At the same time, the SS Mont Blanc was bound to return to France carrying a host of highly explosive materials: 2,367 tons of picric acid, 62 tons of guncotton, 250 tons of TNT, and 246 tons of benzol in barrels below decks.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Public Domain

To exit the Bedford Basin, where the ships were docked, they had to pass through a slim channel. The Imo — behind schedule and on the wrong side of the channel — refused to give way and crashed into the Mont Blanc.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Google Maps/Tech Insider

Although the collision occurred at low speed, the benzol spilled and sparks ignited the entire stockpile of fuel. The Mont Blanc exploded with the force of 2,989 tons of TNT — about 270 times more powerful than a “Mother of All Bombs” blast.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Library and Archives Canada/Wikimedia

The shockwave from the blast covered 325 acres of ground and leveled the neighborhood of Richmond. The temperature of the explosion exceeded 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit, vaporizing water around the Mont Blanc — and pushing a 52-foot-tall tidal wave three blocks into town.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
W. G. McLaughlan/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Source: NASA Safety Center

The force of the explosion lifted the Imo out of the water and threw it onto the shore. The Mont Blanc was ripped apart and completely destroyed. Almost no part of the ship survived the explosion.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management/Wikimedia

Only two parts of the Mont Blanc have ever been located: a 1,140-lb piece of its anchor, found buried more than 2 miles away, and a barrel from one of the ship’s guns, which flew 2.35 miles from the blast site.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Vonkiegr8/Wikimedia

Source: NASA Safety Center

Much of Halifax was leveled, with 12,000 buildings destroyed or made uninhabitable, leaving a huge portion of the city’s population without shelter from the frigid December weather.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself

Source: NASA Safety Center

Almost every window in the city shattered — some reportedly 50 miles away. Even the buildings left standing were severely damaged.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Library of Congress

About 1,600 people died instantly in the blast, and 350 later succumbed to injuries. An estimated 9,000 people were injured in the accident, making 22% of the city’s population a casualty.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management | Wikimedia

Losses would have been even worse had a railway dispatcher, Vincent Coleman, not halted a train carrying 300 people towards the train station directly in front of the burning ship.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
L’Illustration | Wikimedia

Source: Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

Coleman’s final action was sending a telegraph warning up the tracks: “Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbor making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this will be my last message. Good-bye boys.”

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
The Nova Scotia Museum | Wikimedia

Source: Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

The force of the Halifax explosion was so large that it remained the largest human-made explosion ever until the United States developed atomic weaponry in 1945.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
The fireball of the Trinity nuclear bomb test of July 16, 1945. | Wikimedia Commons

Sean Kane wrote a previous version of this post.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Warsaw remembers the historic ghetto uprising 75 years later

Commemorations are being held to mark the 75th anniversary the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, when thousands of young Jewish fighters took up arms against occupying Nazi German forces during World War II.

The uprising broke out April 19, 1943, when about 750 Jewish fighters armed with pistols and other light arms attacked a German force more than three times their size.


Many left last testaments saying that they knew they would not survive but that they wanted to die at a time and place of their own choosing and not in the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp, where more than 300,000 Warsaw Jews had already been sent.

Only a few dozen fighters survived when the Germans crushed the uprising. Most have since died or are no longer healthy enough to attend the observances.

Cornfield Bomber: The US Air Force jet that landed itself
With more than 400,000 imprisoned Jews at its highest point, Nazi Germany’s Warsaw Ghetto was the largest in Poland during World War II. The final act of Jewish resistance started 75 years ago, on April 19, 1943, a month before the ghetto was burned down in May of that year.

Polish President Andrzej Duda is scheduled to visit a Jewish cemetery and then take part in the official ceremony at the Ghetto Heroes Monument.

The commemoration comes at a time of heightened tensions between Poland and Israel over Warsaw’s new Holocaust law, which came into effect in March 2018, and led to harsh criticism from Israel, Jewish organizations, and others.

The legislation penalizes statements attributing Nazi German crimes to the Polish state with fines or a jail term. Polish government officials say the law is meant to protect the country from false accusations of complicity.

Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany in World War II and ceased to exist as a state. An estimated 6 million Poles, about half of them Jews, were killed.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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